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In Norway, don’t mess with snowplow drivers

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Stellan Skarsgard plays a father out for vengeance in “In Order of Disappearance.”

In Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland's thriller, "In Order of Disappearance," Stellan Skarsgard plays Nils Dickman (and, yes, the obvious comments are made), a vengeful father with a very particular set of skills, which in this case includes operating heavy snow-removal equipment. That detail offers a clue to the sardonic tone of the proceedings, which combines black comedy with the dour, humorless mood of Nordic noir — two elements that are not, for Moland at any rate, as complementary as one might expect.

As the story begins, Dickman has just won the Citizen of the Year award from his snowbound hometown, where he plows the roads during the long winters. Or, in his words, "I'm just a guy who just keeps a strip of civilization open for people."


The phrase proves to have more significance than he intended. As Dickman receives his award, Moland intercuts shots of the honoree's son being abducted and given a hot shot by drug dealers. At the morgue, the cynical cops tell Dickman that his son was just an unlucky addict. But Nils knows better. He cuts down his hunting rifle to under-parka size, gasses up the vehicles, and begins clearing a path to find the person who gave the order to kill his boy — the foppish, feckless Count (Pal Sverre Hagen).

Though the collateral damage that follows includes two unhappy marriages and two other grieving fathers — one, an avuncular Serbian drug lord played by the great Bruno Ganz — Moland doesn't linger long on family tragedies. Only long enough to sour some of the mordant glee of his gallows humor. The sardonic laughs include title cards with the name of each character who has joined the ranks of the disappeared.

In addition to such gags, Moland diminishes the grimness by alluding to other neo-noirs, ranging from Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless," with a line echoing the misogynistic last words of that film, to the Coen brothers' "Fargo," with its extreme long shots of snow-filled vistas dotted with minute figures illuminated by police lights. By alluding to such classics, the film, unlike its overachieving tyro hero, seeks admission to a league where it can't compete.



Directed by Hans Petter Moland. Written by Kim Fupz Aakeson. Starring Stellan Skarsgard, Bruno Ganz, Pal Sverre Hagen. At Kendall Square. 114 minutes. Rated R (bloody violence, and language throughout). In Norwegian, Swedish, German, Danish, and Serbian, with subtitles.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.